Unpaid bill case ‘archaic’
WOODSTOCK – A 30-year-old Cary man in jail in connection with an $18,000 outstanding attorney bill will have to wait until Wednesday to ask a judge to reduce his $10,000 bail.
Mathew Bunda has been in McHenry County Jail since April 7 because he missed two court dates after divorce attorney Rhonda Rosenthal filed a citation in November indicating he owed her $17,995 in attorney fees and interest. Rosenthal said she received only $170 since the divorce was finalized in July 2007, despite making two payment plans with him.
Bunda’s family and friends have said Bunda, who works in seasonal landscaping, could not afford to pay the attorney fees and that they could not come up with $10,000 bail. That bail amount – which is similar to the amount defendants must post in serious felony cases, such as armed robbery – seemed high to a University of Illinois law professor.
Besides the bond amount, the legal mechanisms that landed Bunda in jail are fairly common, said Steven Beckett, director of trial advocacy at University of Illinois’ law school.
Beckett predicted that Bunda’s case ultimately would lead to a modest installment plan, perhaps $25 monthly, and a future court date to determine if his financial situation had changed. Perhaps income tax returns or bonuses from work could be applied to the debt, Beckett said.
Judges typically issue body attachments, which are similar to arrest warrants, when debtors don’t show up for court dates or when they have the means to pay a debt but don’t, Beckett said. Any bail posted typically is put toward the debt.
The practice becomes “a little troublesome” if those involved know the debtor can’t post the bail, Beckett said.
“What you’re doing is sentencing him to imprisonment for debt, which we thought we got rid of years ago,” Beckett said.
Bunda, through his fiancée, Kelly Artel, filed a motion asking a judge to reduce his bail and gave Rosenthal notice Thursday. But Rosenthal objected to holding the hearing Monday, because the motion was not properly written and because she wasn’t given two business days’ notice as Friday was a court holiday.
Attorney William Hellyer, who represented Bunda on a recent child support matter, said he would revise the legal paperwork and issue the proper notice so the hearing could be held Wednesday morning before Judge Robert Wilbrandt. Judge G. Martin Zopp had handled the matter as part of Bunda’s divorce and child support case but is on vacation until Thursday.
“I would imagine if someone’s in jail they’d consider it an emergency motion,” said Wilbrandt, who acknowledged that Bunda’s motion was written “somewhat under the minimum standards.”
Ohio State University law professor Christopher Fairman said that while body attachments are still used in Illinois, many other jurisdictions, including federal courts, do not allow them. He called them an “archaic procedural device” that gradually fell out of practice after the Revolutionary War and as modern legal rules were written in the 1930s.
“They are subject to disproportionately affecting the poor,” said Fairman, who specializes in civil law procedure.